Alberta Coal mine fined $1 million for Fisheries Act Violations

Sherritt International Corporation (Sherritt) recently pleaded guilty in the Provincial Court of Alberta to three counts of contravening the Canadian Fisheries Act.  Sherritt was sentenced to pay $1,050,000.  As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

The Coal Valley Mine, which was owned by Sherritt, from 2001 to 2014, is an open-pit coal mine located 90 km south of Edson, Alberta.  The Coal Valley Mine is a 20,660 Ha. surface mine. The mine operates both truck/shovel and dragline pits and utilizes a dragline for coal removal. The area has a long history of mining and the Coal Valley Mine was opened in 1978 to supply coal to Ontario Hydro and for overseas export.

Coal is uncovered at the mine using the two draglines  and two truck/shovel fleets. The exposed coal is hauled from the mine to the heavy media wash plant where the waste is removed and then loaded on trains to be shipped to the ports. Current annual production of the mine is 3.0 million tonnes and the plant has capacity to operate at 4.0 million tonnes per year.

On August 3rd, 2012, Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) enforcement officers visited the mine in response to a spill report, and they determined that effluent being deposited from a waste-water pond was deleterious to fish. ECCC enforcement officers subsequently issued a direction under the Fisheries Act, which resulted in the deposit being stopped.  Further investigation by ECCC determined that there were two previous releases of deleterious effluent from waste-water ponds, on July 27th, 2011.

The releases went into tributaries of the Athabasca River, including the Erith River portions, which are identified by the Government of Alberta as “ecologically significant habitat” for Athabasca rainbow trout, a species at risk.

The waste-water ponds at the Coal Valley Mine collected surface water that was treated with a chemical flocculant to remove suspended sediment before being discharged.  Both suspended sediment and an excess of flocculant can be toxic to fish.

Of the $1,050,000 fine, $990,000 will be directed to the Environmental Damages Fund (EDF).  The EDF was created in 1995 by the Government of Canada. The fund follows the polluter pays principle, and it ensures that court-awarded penalties are used for projects with positive environmental impacts.

Canada: Remediation of Abandoned Mine Sites in Manitoba will take 24 Years

As reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, abandoned mine sites at Lynn Lake and near Leaf Rapids, Manitoba will need to have their wastewater treatment plants operating for the next 24 years to clean up the contamination.  The estimated cost of the running the plants is $62 million over the time frame.  These assertions can be found in Manitoba’s annual public accounts report.

Mines and other developments across the province have left a trail of contaminants in their wake as their life span ends and only waste and by-products remain behind.

The recently released public accounts report for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2017 says Manitoba carries a liability of $281 million to remediate 417 contaminated sites, the worst of them in the province’s north.  The report notes the environmental liability doesn’t include Manitoba Hydro storage sites, which are still being actively used.

The Sherridon mine, located some 100 kilometres from Flin Flon, closed down in 1951, but First Nations people in the area are still suffering the effects and are leery of eating fish and game they need to feed their families, MKO Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson said Wednesday.

“Local hunters and the leadership have strong concerns about the tailings they’ve seen in the water, and how it’s affected their hunting and fishing.  They’re seeing the damage it’s doing to the land, they’re seeing the discolouration of the water,” she said to the Winnipeg Free Press.

North Wilson talked earlier this month to Sherridon-area resident Floyd North, whom she described as a man who lives off the land.

“He’s not sure if he should be feeding that to his family. Floyd and local guides have found dead fish, and fish with tailings in their gills. The vegetation along the water is turning brown earlier,” she said.

Two of the province’s top remediation priorities have been closed for more than 50 years: the Gods Lake mine on the north shore of Elk Island closed in 1943, Sherridon stopped operations in 1951, yet from 1976 to 1998, the provincial government was still conducting environmental assessments. Preparation for remediation only really got going in the last decade.

Capped mine shafts and hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste rock are all that remain of Lynn Lake’s nickel mine. (Cameron MacIntosh/CBC )

“None of this will get cleaned up in my lifetime, and a lot of it cannot be cleaned up. What a legacy of a series of ignorant and negligent governments,” said Eva Pip, retired University of Winnipeg biologist and a renowned expert on water quality and the health of Lake Winnipeg.

The province says mining pumps $2 billion annually into the Manitoba economy and operates in a responsible and environmentally-sound manner — now.

However, there are 149 orphaned and abandoned mines first formally identified in 2000 for remediation “that were abandoned decades ago and continue to pose health and safety problems,” says the province. In some cases, the companies are part of the cleanup.

Pip said she’s been trying to get information for years on the plight of former mine sites and the lakes and rivers around them.

“I see that the number of sites has increased from the last time I requested information, when there were 300-plus identified sites. Many of them are abandoned, where the mining company has walked away, or no longer exists,” Pip said.

“Some are hazardous materials that were put in mine shafts that are now abandoned and flooded. Some are lakes where mining companies were allowed to dump chemical effluent for decades,” such as the Bernic Lake tantalum operation, she said.

Some are arsenic tailings fields going back to the 1930s, said Pip.

“There are also old, underground fuel storage tanks. Some are aboveground fuel storage tanks on northern First Nations reserves. Some are on permafrost. Some are municipal and park landfills that are became defunct when the province so ‘thoughtfully’ privatized landfills. Some are radioactive sites,” such as in Pinawa, Pip said. “There are many many others.”

Sustainable Development is the Progressive Conservative government’s environment ministry, but defers to the department of growth, enterprise and trade on remediating contaminated sites. Manitoba Hydro tracks its own sites.

“Manitoba Hydro does have a number of active sites (such as at Waverley Service Centre), where we dispose of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) as per federal legislation to phase out the use PCBs by Dec. 31, 2025. As these continue to be active sites, we have no plans for remediation, as pointed out in the public accounts,” said spokesman Bruce Owen.

However, “It’s important to continue to clean up these sites so that future generations have a safe and sustainable environment. It’s very concerning if this government is letting budget cuts affect our environmental responsibilities,” said NDP environment critic Rob Altemeyer.

A Manitoba official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said remediations of the Ruttan site near Leaf Rapids (some 900 km north of Winnipeg) and the former Viridian Inc. mine in Lynn Lake (some 1,000 km north of the provincial capital) are well under way. The province spent $11.8 million on Ruttan last year, $228,000 on the Viridian mine.

The Leaf Rapids remediation cost $76 million between the province and former mine operator Viridian. But public accounts say the water-treatment plant will be needed for a long time yet.

“Manitoba owns a portable water-treatment plant that services the Lynn Lake site and is utilized occasionally to treat water from the site for discharge to bring the water quality up to federal standards,” the provincial official said.

When the Ruttan mine closed in 2002, Manitoba and Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Co. Ltd. agreed to share the responsibility, said the province.

“As part of the Ruttan remediation plan, a water-treatment plant was constructed and operates annually during non-freezing conditions to ensure that water discharged from site meets federal water quality guidelines. The requirement for water treatment is expected to decline over time as the remediation takes effect,” said the official.

Teck Coal Ltd. fined $1.4 million for Toxic Release

Teck Coal Limited recently pleaded guilty to three counts of contravening the Canadian Fisheries Act in the Provincial Court of British Columbia.   The court ordered the company to pay a penalty of $1,425,000, which will be directed to the federal Environmental Damages Fund, and used for purposes related to the conservation and protection of fish or fish habitat or the restoration of fish habitat in the East Kootenay region of B.C.  Additionally, Teck Resources will post information regarding this conviction on its website.  As a result of this conviction, the company’s name will be added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

Teck Coal’s Line Creek Operations is located in southeastern British Columbia.  On October 17th, 2014, enforcement officers from Environment Canada and Climate Change (ECCC) launched an investigation following a report that fish had been found dead in ponds connected to Line Creek which runs adjacent to the coal mining operation.  During the investigation, ECCC enforcement officers found that the effluent from the water treatment facility going into Line Creek was deleterious to fish.  Numerous dead fish were found in the Line Creek watershed as a result of this discharge, including Bull trout.  Bull trout are identified as a species of special concern in this area of British Columbia.

The company has a permit to discharge treated effluent into the Line Creek, however in the fall of 2014, there was a malfunction of the treatment system.  As a result, toxic levels of nitrate, phosphorus, selenium and hydrogen sulfates entered the Line Creek, subsequently killing over 74 fish.

Line Creek is identified by the Government of British Columbia as part of a “Classified Water” system.  This provincial classification means that the water system is seen to have a high fisheries value and it requires special fishing licenses.

Teck’s West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility cost $120 million to construct.  The facility treats up to 7,500 m3 (2 million gallons) of water per day – enough to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools.  Selenium concentrations are reduced by about 96% in treated water, to below 20 parts per billion.  Nitrate concentrations are reduced by over 99% in treated water, to below 3 parts per million.

Teck’s West Line Creek Active Water Treatment Facility

Teck’s Line Creek operation produces steelmaking coal – also called metallurgical coal or coking coal — which is used to make steel.  The processed coal is transported by sea to the Asia-Pacific region and elsewhere.  The current annual production capacities of the mine and preparation plant are approximately 3.5 and 3.5 million tonnes of clean coal, respectively. Proven and probable reserves at Line Creek are projected to support mining at planned production rates for a further 23 years.

U.S. Instructor Training Aims To Reduce Hazmat Shipping Incidents

Hazardous Materials Instructor Training is now available at no cost in 12 states to help reduce transportation incidents involving undeclared hazardous materials.

The training is offered by the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) thanks to a $708,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).  The goal of the grant from DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is to enhance the safe transport of hazardous materials by highway, rail, water and air.  During the next 12 months, TEEX plans to offer 48 classes in cities that are adjacent to major interstate shipping highways and trucking hubs.

The TEEX training will provide instructors with information to help them develop a systematic training program that ensures a hazmat employee has familiarity with the general provisions of the hazardous materials regulations, Also, the training will ensure an employee is able to recognize and identify hazardous materials, has knowledge of specific requirements applicable to functions performed by the employee, and has knowledge of emergency response information, self-protection measures, and accident prevention methods and procedures.

“It is vital that these materials be properly packaged, labeled and stowed for transportation or they could pose significant threats to transportation workers, carrier operators, emergency responders and the general public,” said Jeff Bowman, Environmental Training Manager with the TEEX Infrastructure Training and Safety Institute. The training will help companies meet their safety goals and reduce hazmat incidents caused by human error, he added.

This course will also assist employers in developing a systematic program that ensures employees can recognize and identify hazardous materials and are knowledgeable of emergency response information, self-protection measures, and accident prevention methods and procedures, Bowman said.

About The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration develops and enforces regulations for the safe, reliable, and environmentally sound operation of the nation’s 2.7 million mile pipeline transportation system and the nearly one million daily shipments of hazardous materials by land, sea and air.

About The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service
TEEX is an internationally recognized leader in the delivery of emergency response, homeland security and workforce training and exercises, technical assistance, and economic development. Last year, TEEX served more than 168,000 people from every U.S. state and territory and 82 countries worldwide. TEEX makes a difference by providing training, developing practical solutions, and saving lives.

SOURCE: The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service

Canada: Environmental Review Tribunal gives Ministry Broad Preventative Powers over Migrating Contamination

Article by Stanley D. Berger, Fogler, Rubinoff LLP

On September 1, 2017, the Ontario Environmental Review Tribunal in the matter of Hamilton Beach Brands Canada Inc. et al. v. the Director, Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change made a preliminary ruling that the Director had jurisdiction to make an order under s.18 of the Ontario Environmental Protection Act (Ontario EPA) requiring a person who owns or owned, or has or had management or control of a contaminated undertaking or property to delineate contamination that had already migrated to off-site properties.  The property in question, formerly a small-appliance manufacturing business, was contaminated and the various contaminants were of concern to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, having migrated to other Picton residential, commercial and institutional properties where they might be entering nearby buildings by vapour intrusion.  Section 18 of the Ontario EPA provides that the Director may make orders preventing, decreasing or eliminating an adverse effect that may result from the discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking or the presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property.  The Director’s Order was challenged on three grounds:

  1. The adverse effect the Director could address was limited to a future event or circumstance (given that s.18 is prospective and preventative);
  2. The adverse effect had to relate to the potential off-site migration of a contaminant that was on an orderee’s property at the time the order was made;
  3. The order could require work only on site but not off-site, to address the risk of an adverse effect.

The Tribunal rejected all three arguments, reasoning that adverse effects resulting from contamination were frequently ongoing rather than static, with no clear line between existing and future effects.  The Tribunal looked to the purpose of the Ontario EPA which was to protect and conserve the natural environment and found the orderees’ arguments were inconsistent with this purpose.  Contamination and adverse effects were not constrained by property boundaries and therefore it was immaterial whether the contaminant was on the orderee’s property at the time the order was made. Finally, the list of requirements that could be ordered under s.18(1) EPA included off-site work.

 

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

About the Author

Stanley Berger is certified by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in environmental law.  He was called to the Ontario Bar in 1981. He joined the law firm of Fogler Rubinoff on July 4 2013.  Stanley was the founder of the Canadian Nuclear Law Organization and served as its President between 2008-2015, and remains a board member.  He is also is a former President of the International Nuclear Law Association.  He has taught nuclear law for the Nuclear Energy Agency in France and is an adjunct professor for York University’s Professional Master’s Degree in Energy.  Stanley is the author of a quarterly publication entitled “The Prosecution and Defence of Environmental Offences” and edits an annual review of environmental law.

Stanley represents suppliers and operators in the nuclear industry on nuclear liability, regulatory and supply chain issues. He provides legal advice to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. Other clients include the CANDU Owners Group and a large Ontario municipality. His environmental practice includes litigation before courts, boards and tribunals, as well as solicitor’s work on behalf of renewable energy companies, landowners and waste management entities. He represented a First Nation on regulatory matters relating to a renewable energy project. His practice also includes the protection of proprietary information on applications before Ontario’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Commission.

This article was originally published on the Fogler, Rubinoff LLP website.

Canada: Oil Spill Liability – Kawartha Lakes Continues

By Donna Shier, Partner and Certified Environmental Law Specialist, Joanna Vince, Senior Associate and Raeya Jackiw, Student-at-Law, Willms & Shier

Background

In the most recent decision in the ongoing Kawartha Lakes saga, the Superior Court of Justice found homeowner Mr. Wayne Gendron partly responsible for an oil spill that destroyed his lakeside property.  The Court also found Mr. Gendron’s fuel distributor liable for a portion of the costs.  This decision serves to warn homeowners that a distributor’s delivery of fuel does not mean that their tanks are safe. It also cautions fuel distributors that they may be liable for spills brought about by a homeowner’s negligence.

The Facts

Thompson Fuels (“Thompson”) supplied 700 liters of fuel oil to two tanks in Mr. Gendron’s basement.  Mr. Gendron had installed the fuel tanks himself without proper shut off valves, contrary to industry standards.

During a period of financial difficulty, Mr. Gendron filled these fuel tanks with less expensive stove oil.  The stove oil introduced water and microbes into the tanks, causing the tanks to corrode.  When Thomspon delivered the fuel oil one of the tanks leaked, spilling approximately 600 liters.

In the hours following the fuel delivery Mr. Gendron tried to manage the spill on his own by collecting what he believed to be all of the leaking oil in Tupperware containers.  Approximately 24 hours later, Mr. Gendron called Thompson to complain that it had not delivered his entire shipment of fuel oil – he was short about 600 liters.  Mr. Gendron never called to report the spill to the MOECC’s Spills Action Centre hotline.

The fuel oil migrated under Mr. Gendron’s house, through the City of Kawartha Lake’s drainage system, and into nearby Sturgeon Lake. The Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) ordered Mr. Gendron and his wife to “ameliorate the adverse effects caused by the discharge of the furnace oil” and “restore the natural environment… to the extent practicable.”  Mr. Gendron began remediation of the contamination of his property and the contamination of Sturgeon Lake.

Early remediation efforts were complicated by the frozen lake and soil. Mr. Gendron’s personal insurance was rapidly exhausted.  His insurer eventually refused to fund further off-site remediation of Sturgeon Lake.

The remediation efforts cost nearly $2 million  and required the demolition of Mr. Gendron’s home.

Sturgeon Lake, Kawatha Lakes Region, Ontario

The City’s MOECC Order

The MOECC ordered the City of Kawartha Lakes to clean up any fuel oil remaining in the City’s culverts and sewers that could re-contaminate Sturgeon Lake.  The City appealed the order first to the Environmental Review Tribunal, then to the Divisional Court, and ultimately to the Ontario Court of Appeal, losing each time. (See our previous article on the Court of Appeal’s decision here.)

Environmental Protection Act Claims

Using its powers under the Ontario Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”), s. 100.1 the City ordered compensation for its remediation costs from Mr. Gendron, Thompson and the Technical Standards and Safety Authority (“TSSA”).  Mr. Gendron, Thompson and the TSSA appealed the order to the Environmental Review Tribunal.  Thompson and the TSSA settled with the City and withdrew their appeals.  Mr. Gendron’s appeal was unsuccessful and he was required to pay more than $300,000 of the City’s costs.  Mr. Gendron then brought a claim for contribution and indemnity against Thompson under EPA, s. 100.1(6).  In this most recent case, the Court found that Mr. Gendron could not make out his EPA claim because ownership and control of the fuel oil had transferred to him when the fuel oil was delivered to him by Thompson.  Mr. Gendron’s claim for contribution under the EPA was dismissed.

About the Authors

Donna Shier, Partner & Certified Environmental Law Specialist.  With almost 40 distinguished years of experience practicing environmental law, Donna Shier is one of Canada’s leading environmental counsel to major industrial corporations. Donna is also frequently called upon by corporate, commercial and real estate lawyers to assist their clients with environmental legal issues, and provides environmental law expertise to external litigation counsel. Donna is a qualified mediator and is an accredited member of the ADR Institute of Canada. Donna is called to the bar of Ontario.

Joanna Vince, Senior Associate.  Joanna Vince has significant expertise representing a wide range of clients with environmental issues, civil claims and prosecutions, orders and appeals. Joanna was admitted to the bar of Ontario in 2011.  Joanna has a B.Sc. (Hons., High Distinction) in biology and environmental science, and a Certificate in Environmental Studies. Joanna’s knowledge of and commitment to environmental issues was recognized by the University of Toronto, which awarded her the Arthur and Sonia Labatt Fellowship and the Douglas Pimlott Scholarship. Also at the University of Toronto, Joanna assisted with preparing academic papers and books as a research assistant on wind power, carbon taxes and climate change.

Raeya Jackiw, Student-at-Law.  Prior to articling at Willms & Shier, Raeya was a summer student at the firm and conducted legal research on issues in environmental, aboriginal, energy, constitutional, administrative, contract, tort, and civil procedure law. She has a Juris Doctor, Certificate in Environmental Law from the University of Toronto, a Masters Degree in Environmental Science from the University of Guelph, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science from Queen’s University.

This article was originally published on the Wilms & Shier website.

Environmental Opportunity for Women-owned Small Business Firms in the U.S.

Federal Business Opportunities, FBO-5787, Solicitation W912P917R0055, 2017

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued a solicitation that is earmarked  for woman-owned small business (WOSB) firms.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District, plans to seek firms for environmental remediation construction efforts that include remedial design, remedial action, and remedial excavations of contaminated material at pre-determined depths; HTRW manifesting; utility relocation; water management; engineering support; and construction support.  The anticipated work lies within the geographic boundaries of the Mississippi Valley Division and U.S. EPA Regions 5 and 7.  Solicitation W912P9-17-R-0055 will be an RFP for lowest-price technically acceptable proposals. Contract duration is five years. The NAICS code for the work is 541620 (Environmental Consulting Services), with an SBA size standard of $15M.  Release of the solicitation is anticipated on FedBizOpps on or about October 9, 2017. For more information, visit https://www.fbo.gov/notices/106dd6fa43c17c865b58b8f17de28425

In-Situ Remediation of Tetrachloroethylene and its Intermediates in Groundwater

Researchers from Tianjin University in China recently released results from a study that showed the results of the use of an anaerobic/aerobic permeable reactive barrier at removing tetrachloroethylene (also known as “perc”) and its intermediates in groundwater.

The anaerobic/aerobic permeable reactive barrier (PRB) system that was tested consisted of four different functional layers and was designed to remediate PCE-contaminated groundwater.  The first (oxygen capture) layer maintained the dissolved oxygen (DO) concentration at <1.35 mg/L in influent supplied to the second (anaerobic) layer.  The third (oxygen-releasing) layer maintained DO concentration at >11.3 mg/L within influent supplied to the fourth (aerobic) layer.  Results show that 99% of PCE was removed, mostly within the second (anaerobic) layer.  The toxic by-products TCE, DCE, and VC were further degraded by 98, 90, and 92%, respectively, in layer 4 (aerobic). The anaerobic/aerobic PRB thus could control both PCE and its degradation by-products.

Photo Credit: US EPA

Tetrachloroethylene is a manufactured chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning of fabrics and for metal-degreasing. It is also used to make other chemicals and is used in some consumer products.

Tetrachloroethylene is present in the subsurface at contaminated sites, often as a result of its inappropriate disposal and release from dry-cleaning and degreasing facilities or landfills.

CERCLA Trumps As-Is Sales

By Steven L. Hoch, Attorney, Clark Hill

A federal court in Alaska assessed responsibility against the City of Fairbanks (City) for remediation costs found necessary to clean up property it previously owned.  The court concluded that the City should have mitigated the problem or at least warned the purchaser about the contamination, even though the property was sold “As-Is”.  Under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) liability is assessed without reference to cause.  Further, the court said that numerous courts have held that CERCLA liability cannot be defeated by contract, unless specifically and clearly addressed in the contract language.

In Gavora, Inc. v. City of Fairbanks , Case No. 4:15–cv-00015-SLG, BL 256894 (D. Alaska July 25, 2017), the City owned two parcels of land and Gavora held leasehold on one of the parcels. For a considerable length of time, a dry cleaning business operated in the shopping center located on their parcel.  Eventually, the contamination drew the attention of the State of Alaska, who told the City about the contamination and that they suspected the contamination migrated from that parcel to the other.  While the State did not verify the findings, the district court found it clear that the City knew or should have known that the first parcel was also contaminated.

Fairbanks Mall – Satellite Image showing borehole and monitoring well locations as well as PCE contamination levels

The City sold the first parcel to Gavora on an “As-Is, Where-Is” basis.  This sale occurred 10 years after the City first learned of the contamination on the second parcel.  When the purchase took place, Gavora did not perform its own environmental assessment.  Five years later, contamination was discovered on the first parcel owned by Gavora.  Lacking options, Gavora remediated the parcel and sued the City of Fairbanks for contribution.

Even though the sale was “As-Is”, the court nevertheless held the seller liable. Further, the court allocated 55% of the costs to the City and 45% of the costs to the current owner. The court rationalized that this allocation was appropriate because (1) the city knew or should have known of the contamination, yet failed to inform the purchaser; (2) the current owner made substantial corrective action efforts upon learning of the problem whereas the City took no action, and (3) it would be inequitable to hold the current owner responsible for contamination occurring prior to its master lease, but the court could not “effectively apportion the contamination”, but (4) the current owner would obtain a greater benefit than the prior owner from the remediation.

In the final analysis this case affirms that “As-Is” does not exculpate a seller from CERCLA liability, and that not disclosing contamination even when it did not make any representation to the contrary. As this was a district court opinion, it does not have significant legal value, but should not be dismissed out of hand when confronting similar issues.

 

This article was first published on the Clark Hill website.

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About the author

Steven Hoch has over 40 years of experience with both federal and state environmental laws and regulations in the context of permitting, regulatory proceedings, litigation, enforcement actions, water supply, public policy formation, and advice.  His work includes contamination of land and ground and surface water.  Steven has critical experience in the areas of environmental law and the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Acts, Title 23, water supply, and the mechanics of water distribution.  His experience also extends to groundwater modeling and water quality testing.  He also has significant experience in hazardous substances and waste handling practices, remediation, soil erosion, and claims of toxic exposures

Steven has in-depth experience working with numerous public water systems throughout the state.  He has also established a sterling reputation for his work with the Regional Water Quality Control Boards, the Department of Toxic Substance Control, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency both in the administrative and litigation.  His clients range from the country’s largest municipal water agency to individuals selling or buying contaminated sites.

Steven often takes primary roles in many environmental trials, and has served as liaison counsel for groups or parties at the request of fellow counsel.  He has been involved in several landmark cases, including acting as PG&E’s counsel in the case made famous by the movie Erin Brockovich.

 

The Ninth Circuit Reiterates That “Knowingly” Handling Hazardous Waste Without a Permit Is a General Intent Crime Under RCRA

By Richard E. Stultz

Max Spatig was convicted of knowingly storing and disposing of hazardous waste without a permit and sentenced by the U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho to 46 months in prison under 42 U.S.C. § 6928(d)(2)(A). See U.S. v Spatig (2017) 2017 WL 4018398.  At trial, Spatig had sought to introduce evidence on his diminished capacity arguing that he did not have the required state of mind for the offense.  The district court, however, granted the government’s motion in limine to exclude all such evidence because § 6928(d)(2)(A) under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) only required general intent and diminished capacity was not a defense to a general intent crime.

For years, Spatig had operated a business which used paint and paint-related materials.  Over time Spatig had accumulated several used containers of this material, some of which ended up on his residential property in Idaho.  In 2005, the county discovered the several containers and reported it to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Working with Spatig, DEQ collected and destroyed most of the containers.  In 2010, Spatig was again found to be storing used containers of paint and paint related materials on another of his properties.  This time the job was too big for local or state authorities so the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was notified.  The U.S. EPA determined that the waste was hazardous and that a cleanup was necessary. The U.S. EPA removed approximately 3400 containers and spent $498,562 on the cleanup.  The EPA charged Spatig with violation of § 6928(d)(2)(A) for knowingly storing and disposing of a hazardous waste without a permit from either DEQ or the U.S. EPA.

Paint cans at a property off the Archer-Lyman Highway near Rexburg, Idaho

Spatig appealed his trial conviction and argued on appeal that § 6928(d)(2)(A) required specific intent.  He also took issue with the district court’s enhancement of his base sentence arguing that the cleanup did not result in a “substantial expenditure.”  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, disagreed with Spatig and affirmed the district court.

Under § 6928(d)(2)(A), a person may not “knowingly” treat, store or dispose of a hazardous waste without a permit.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, “‘knowingly’ merely requires proof of knowledge of the facts that constitute the offense.”  The Ninth Circuit had also held that “knowingly” generally does not require specific intent.  In other words, a defendant’s particular purpose or objective is not required.  The Ninth Circuit previously rejected the argument that § 6928(d)(2)(A) required that a defendant know there was no permit for disposal.  The court held there that “knowingly” only required “that a defendant be aware that he is treating, storing, or disposing of something that he knows is hazardous.”  The court found that RCRA was a public-welfare statute and that “§6928(d)(2)(A) fits within a class of general-intent crimes that protect public health, safety, and welfare.”  Because § 6928(d)(2)(A) only requires general intent, the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court’s exclusion of evidence at trial of Spatig’s state of mind.

Spatig argued that his sentence enhancement was error because the cleanup did not constitute a “substantial expenditure” required under the federal sentencing guidelines (U.S.S.G. § 2Q1.2(b)(3)).  The Ninth Circuit refused to establish a bright-line rule but noted that sister circuits had found that expenditures under $200,000 were “substantial.”  In upholding the district court, the Ninth Circuit noted that in the instant case the $498,562 underestimated the total cost because it did not include the local agencies’ expenditures.

This holding underscores the long-standing general purpose of environmental laws to protect the public welfare. These statutes do not generally require specific intent—only knowing of the act is required.

This article was first published on the Clark Hill website.

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About the author

Richard E. Stultz brings over eighteen years of experience in the environmental, land development and petroleum industries to bear in his practice of law. In addition to his law degree, he also earned a Bachelor of Science in Petroleum Engineering. Richard’s practice is currently focused on environmental litigation.

Richard is experienced in law and motion filings and hearings. He is practiced in written discovery and legal research. Richard has even co-written a First Amendment argument submitted before the California Court of Appeal. He is familiar with California’s environmental laws and regulations.

While in law school, Richard interned at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office in the Real Property/Environment division. He researched and prepared a key memorandum regarding good will compensation in eminent domain.